Princeton University fired a tenured professor earlier this week, citing uncooperativeness with an investigation into his past sexual relationship with an undergraduate student that took place about 15 years ago.
The classics professor, Joshua Katz, was voted by Princeton’s board of trustees to be removed, despite his position as a tenured faculty member. The decision came after recent controversy surrounding his denouncement of anti-racist proposals by Princeton faculty, students, and staff — sparking debate on whether he was removed due to his politics.
The retaliation against Katz mirrors recent controversy on Penn's campus surrounding tenured Penn Law professor Amy Wax, whose previous statements have been widely denounced as xenophobic and racist.
While Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger announced in January he was in the process of initiating sanctions against Wax, it remains unclear what consequences Wax will face after the sanctions process. In an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Ruger wrote that "as required by the University Handbook, and to preserve the integrity of the process, we will not make any further public statements until the proceedings have been completed."
In 2018, Ruger had barred Wax from teaching mandatory first-year law courses after she received criticism for saying she has never seen a Black Penn Law student graduate in the top quarter of their class — which Ruger said was false. "The Law School has previously made clear on multiple occasions that Professor Wax’s views do not reflect our values or practices," wrote Ruger in an email to the DP. Late last year, Wax again came under widespread scrutiny after reiterating racist remarks against Asian and Black Americans.
Katz's dismissal was announced in a statement released by Princeton on May 23, in which the university said the longtime professor was removed after it received a complaint in 2021 from an alumna who had a consensual relationship with Katz — while under his academic supervision — as an undergraduate. The relationship with the alumna, which was prohibited by internal university policy, spanned from 2006 to 2007.
Upon his removal, Katz told the New York Times that Princeton had treated him with "gross unfairness," and that he was "both angry and heartbroken, which is a dreadful combination." Katz also recently wrote a guest column published in the Wall Street Journal, titled "Princeton Fed Me to the Cancel Culture Mob," in which he implied that his termination is not a result of his past relationship, but instead of his criticism of Princeton's proposed anti-racist proposals and other related comments.
"In the summer of George Floyd, certain opinions about the state of America that would have been considered normal only a few months earlier suddenly became anathema," Katz wrote in his column.
The university launched an investigation in 2018 and uncovered multiple instances where Katz was dishonest and unforthcoming about the relationship. These instances included discouraging the alumna from corroborating with the investigation and seeking mental health resources in an effort to keep the relationship a secret. Katz, who was at Princeton for nearly 25, was suspended for one year following the investigation.
The Daily Princetonian reported in 2021 that Katz had "crossed professional boundaries with three of his female students," and made two other women uncomfortable by taking them out to expensive dinners — in one case, by commenting on one woman’s appearance and giving her gifts. According to the article, Katz’s lawyer said there was no pattern of sexual misconduct and that Katz had asked numerous students, both male and female, to dinner.
In July 2020, Katz had stirred discourse on Princeton's campus after publishing an essay that criticized recommendations to address the university's racist history. He argued in the essay that committing to anti-racist iconography and creating a faculty committee to investigate racist behaviors and publication would limit free speech and foster campus-wide division.
In his article, Katz claimed that Princeton's Black Justice League, an active student organization on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a “small local terrorist organization” that negatively impacted the students around it.
Although the university's statement announcing Katz's dismissal did not mention the issue of free speech, the New York Times reported that Katz's lawyer, Samantha Harris, said: “The university’s decision will have a powerful chilling effect on free speech, because anyone who might wish to express a controversial opinion knows that they must first ask themselves if their personal life can stand up to the kind of relentless scrutiny that Dr. Katz’s life was subjected to beginning just days after the publication of his Quillette article.”
Christopher Eisgruber, president of Princeton, spoke about Katz's removal last week to alumni who were on campus for reunions, the New York Times reported.